Friday, November 20, 2015

Finding Images

If you're looking for images from your community, try the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Many of the images have no known restrictions on their use. When I entered the search term "Lancaster, South Carolina," the result was several photographs of young children working in cotton mills.

Polly's Early Days

This is my all-time favorite photograph of my Grandma Polly. I love her sultriness and her confidence. She was a strikingly beautiful woman who lived life to the fullest. But she hated this photograph, especially the cigarette dangling from her hand. She didn't want us to see who she used to be. She wanted us to see the church lady and the grandmother she had become.

What I wouldn't give to be able to travel back in time to meet my mother and grandmothers as younger women. I think I would learn so much from knowing how they viewed the world then, as compared to their later years.

Over time, Grandma Polly shared some things with me, rattling stories off matter-of-factly. She knew I was a writer and that I collected family stories, and like most people in my family she chose her words carefully in my presence. But I wanted to know more.

Then again, when I think about my own life, I know there are things about me my children don't know and will never know. When I give them advice, they know I'm speaking from experience, but they don't know every painful detail. They see the woman those experiences have shaped. They see the woman I want them to see.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Roots revisited

I recently watched Roots from start to finish for the first time since 1977, when I was 11 years old. I remember watching it with my parents when it came on television, and going to school stunned. I couldn't look at the world the same way after that.

The impact of the television series has stayed with me all these years. Nevertheless, seeing it decades later was like watching it for the first time. I noticed things I didn't remember, subtle things.

I've had time to learn and reflect and live, and I now know how my family fits into a horrific chapter of American history.